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Review of The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel

The Thirteenth TaleI just finished reading The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel by Diane Setterfield.

I think it was a fine book (not great), but I probably wasn’t the intended audience. The book is about a young “bookish” woman who works in her father’s bookstore and occasionally writes obscure historical biographies. A famous and reclusive writer, Vida Winter, contacts her to write her biography. Vida is famous for her writing — and infamous for inventing stories about her own life to reporters and would-be biographers. There are mysteries to solve and ghost sightings to reconcile. They are all dealt with in a satisfactory enough manner, but the whole enterprise comes together in a “just so” fashion that seems too easy.

Spoiler — Don’t read the following if you have not yet read the book.

For example, Vida insists on telling her story the way she wants — and since it’s being consciously crafted, it can contain just-so results. I have no problem with that. The kinds of things that annoyed me are the interactions and subsequent revelations of the entire backstory of every person she meets at the old Angelfield house. Margaret is stomping around the burned out and soon to be demolished Angelfield house when she runs into Aurelius. Who is Aurelius? A giant of a man who is in a constant state of melancholy because he doesn’t know who his parents were — he was a foundling. Turns out he’s the son of Emmeline. The mother and two children who are also seen at the place? Turns out she is Aurelius’s half-sister (though they don’t know this until the end). Any other characters we meet or interact with? Sure, but the characters either have a defined and set role, or they are introduced without a direct role and end up being an integral part of the entire mystery.

Anyway, it’s a fine book, don’t take my criticism as though I think I’ve found fatal flaws.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

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